I spent 2 weeks in the Dordogne area from June 25 to July 9 2011 as part of a 3-month holiday (April 28-July 16 – yep, almost maxing out my 90-day stay in the EU as a Canadian!) in Western Europe to celebrate a milestone birthday. Although I have been to Europe many times before (eg: annual trips to Europe, worked in Brussels, study abroad in Vienna during uni, my partner is from Germany which means many German holidays with his family), I saw this trip as an opportunity to see things I haven’t had a chance to see before or would be more difficult to see as a 2-week vacation. I must say that the trip planning (which started about 5-months prior to the start of the trip) was almost as fun as the trip itself – the excitement of trying to find the “perfect” hotel/B&B, the joy of scoring the cheapest train ticket available to reading the insider tips from fellow fodorites who have been to my destinations before.
My apologies that this trip report is so late as I had started a new job after coming back home so my schedule has been really busy until now. After nearly a 3- month hiatus from the Fodor community, I recently started reading posts and trip reports again. Ahh…all the wonderful trips down the memory lane and an abundant source of great information. I then realize I really want to write a trip report to share with fellow Fodorites. I would like say a special thank you to everyone who has helped me plan this 3-month holiday. My trip wouldn’t have been the same without your advice and insider tips – thank you for your generosity and patience. I hope you will all enjoy my trip report.
This 2-week holiday in Dordogne was like a holiday from a holiday which was much needed after traveling for 8 weeks prior with family and friends! I was alone for most of this trip aside from 4 days when a childhood friend flew in from London to join me in Saralat.
I always knew I wanted to incorporate the French countryside as part of my 3-month travel plans but I really had no idea which part of France I wanted to go to. This is my first time in the French country side and I didn’t even know about the beauty of the Dordogne area until I started reading this forum to research about other parts of my trip. So really, I chose Dordogne because of all raves and reviews about the area on this forum!
I dedicate my first ever trip report to Dordogne as I think it’s probably the highlight of my 3-month vacation. When/If I get around to writing trip reports for the other parts of my 3-month travels, I will label them under their respective countries
Fly from Lisbon to Toulouse with Easyjet
Cordes – 2 nights
Rocamadour – 2 nights
Sarlat – 5 nights
St. Cyprien – 5 nights
Fly out of Brive to London with Cityjet
I had just finished Lisbon and parted way with my friend who was flying home from the Lisbon airport while I boarded an Easyjet flight to Toulouse (55 euros). I had paid the extra 10 euros for the speedy access which I think is well worth it as you get to be the first on the plane, get to choose a seat in the front of the plane and have lots of overhead luggage space. But I think the best part about speedy boarding is getting to use a priority line at the check-in. My goodness – the line at the Lisbon airport was very long (I think I would have stood in line for at least 60 mins)! Luckily, I was done with check-in in about 15 minutes using the priority line.
The flight from Lisbon to Toulouse left on time and was uneventful. I was the only person who had purchased the speedy boarding so I was the first one on the plane and chose the first row on the plane (lots of leg room!).
I picked up my luggage and walked over to the Europcar counter which was located right next to the luggage conveyor belt among other rental car company desks. Picking up the rental car was perhaps that part that created the most anxiety for me. I was worried about not getting an automatic (even though I had paid for an automatic via Kemwel. Oh and I can’t drive manual.) and being asked to sign a waiver to say that I would pay Europcar for any damages up to the full cost of the car although I had purchased zero-deductible insurance through Kemwel (this actually happened to us when we picked up our Europcar rental in Rennes just 8 weeks prior although we had also purchased zero-deductible insurance from Kemwel).
Here’s my post on the forum re: this ‘waiver form” shenigan with Europcar:
But luckily, my anxiety soon faded after a very competent and nice gentleman helped me with my reservation at the Europcar counter. I asked him about the “waiver form” and his response was “We don’t even need to talk about insurance because you have purchase zero-deductible insurance”. He says the only automatic he has was either a Smart car or an A-series Mercedes. He suggested I take the A-series and assured me that the car is a very small and an easy-to-handle car (I specifically told him I don’t want a big car!). He says the car is just being cleaned and I just need to walk 400 yards to the Europcar parking lot and show my “ticket” to the customer service reps there to pick up my car. I easily found the Europcar parking lot (outdoor, just straight ahead of the airport exit) with my huge luggage, duffel bag (put on top of my luggage) and my purse. The guy at the Europcar “hut” handed the key to my black A-series Mercedes to me and even helped me hoist my huge luggage into the trunk. As I sat in the car to cool off (it was 35C that day) with the AC on full blown, I noticed that the car is actually a tiptronic (or “autotronic”). The same gentleman came over to see why I was still in the parking lot and I asked him if this car is on full automatic or set in the autotronic mode. Although his English was decent, I think I lost him when I told him I couldn’t drive manual (which I’m sure is a bizarre concept in Europe as everyone knows how to drive a manual) and I wanted to make sure the car was on full automatic. Then he offered to show me how to drive the car in the tiptronic mode around the parking lot. At this time, I was thinking to myself “no problem, I will just drive the car as an automatic because I’m sure the Mercedes is smart enough to see that I don’t want to shift gears” (right, not very smart in hindsight…you can chuckle now if you like). But luckily I listened to him and retained the most important piece of information that day which was “If you want to accelerate, just step on the gas and shift the gears by tipping right”. Boy, was I glad I remembered this piece of advice!
Off I go after a few practice rounds around the parking lot, inputting my destination of Cordes-sur-Ciel into my GPS (a TomTom which I think is essential, especially when you’re driving around by yourself in the countryside!) and following the driving instructions given to me by the B&B owner of Aurifat (who suggested I don’t take the first turn-off from the airport to avoid going through Toulouse city center). After driving for about 10 minutes, I noticed that the car was quite loud, like loud enough for me to notice the engine over the music blaring on the radio. I’m not completely clueless re: how to drive a manual and noticed that the engine rev was over 3. Hmm…having seen friends drive a manual before, I know that you have to shift gear when it’s over 3. I looked on the dashboard and realize I’ve been driving in first gear since I left the airport! So I started tipping on the tiptronic to get myself into a higher gear. Then the car was smooth sailing. Oh, I realized the car tops out at 120km/h, like the car won’t go any faster no matter how hard I floor the gas – is this because Europcar has “locked” the speed at 120km/h??
I attempted to read the manual in French the next day and quickly gave up on the idea of trying to “fix” the car to make it a full automatic because the last thing I need is a broken-down car in the countryside where I know it’s next to possible to find an automatic replacement if something goes wrong with this one. Why fix something when it ain’t not broken, right? Once I got the hang of driving a tiptronic, I actually really enjoyed the car as I didn’t have to step on the brakes all the time (can just down shift) through the winding hilly roads in Dordogne.
I paid US$1,080 for the automatic (compact 4-door of a Volkswagen or similar) with zero-deductible insurance through Kemwel for a 2-week rental. Not the cheapest but I think it is a decent price given that I wanted an automatic and zero-deductible insurance.
Alright, now that the logistics are laid down…let’s continue with the journey to Cordes…
Day 1 – June 25 – Toulouse to Cordes
The drive from Toulouse to Cordes was about 75 minutes. The first part was the freeway followed by the remaining drive on scenic hilly country roads of the Gaillac wine region. It was a beautiful sunny day and the scenery just took my breath away. I knew I had come to the right place – a couple of weeks of the beautiful country-side, fresh air, quaint villages and delicious food.
As the saying goes, you can’t rely on your GPS 100%. In my defense of the TomTom (a new version, purchased just a couple of months prior), it has been a trusted companion for the Brittany and Loire part of the trip just 8 weeks prior and an absolute essential when driving in the French countryside (especially since I’m on my own for this part of the trip!). But the biggest mistake was made while I tried to find Aurifat, the B&B which will be my home for the next 2 nights, because Aurifat doesn’t have a street address. So I was on google map before flying to Toulouse and decided to input the junctions where Aurifat was. Low and behold, the TomTom took me to a very steep and narrow cobble stone road where I knew I couldn’t go any further. After I turned the car around, it instructed me to drive down this lane to my right which looked more like a tractor trail. I turned on this road and proceeded to drive the next 500m on this VERY narrow road where the other side of the road was a straight plunge into a cemetery and the other side being a ! I was praying that no cars would be coming toward me because I had nowhere to go and I didn’t want to back-up the car on this very narrow road. All I could think about was plunging the car into the cemetery below!
500 meters the car and I emerged unscathed and at the driveway of Aurifat. Ian and Penelope Wanklyn are the proprietors of this beautiful B&B at the bottom of Cordes facing a beautiful valley. I had booked the Pigeonnier room which has its own separate entrance and a big balcony. The Pigeonnier room actually has a connecting room which can be opened and used for a family. My room was spacious and the furnishing was nice. The only down side was that the wifi couldn’t reach my room due to thick stone walls. This proved not to be a problem as I had very much enjoyed sitting in the backyard, which faces the beautiful valley below, to use the wifi (either during breakfasts or while winding down in the evening). It was a great value for 78 euros per night (breakfast included). Aurifat is listed as one of the B&Bs in Karen Brown’s B&B of France. The Wanklyns were very hospitable. Ian even provided a day-trip driving itinerary to visit the small towns around Cordes.
After settling in and making a few skype calls to let friends/family know that I’m alive and well, it was already 6pm. Using the map and a self-written Cordes guide-book that were provided by the Wanklyns, I decided to walk up the steep streets to enter the walled village of Cordes. The walk from the B&B to Cordes was so picturesque – filled with blooming roses and lavenders and quaint houses along the way. This was what I had always imagined seeing in my French countryside vacation. The climb up to Cordes was quite a work-out which was quite welcoming knowing that I’ll be dining on foie gras, ducks and other French delicacies in the days to come.
Upon entering the double walls of Cordes through the arches that were buit in the 1300s (?), I noticed that the town was pretty quiet. I hardly saw another person until I reached the main square where there were a few tourists. I was pretty surprised at how quiet it was. I’m guessing because all the daytrippers have left by now? I wandered over to one end of the square which opens into the vast valley below. The view of the rolling fields was spectacular. The heat was getting to me, even though it was already almost 7pm. I think the temperature was still in the low 30s and there was no wind. I decided to have an early dinner at an outdoor table at the restaurant right next to the panoramic lookout. Coincidentally, the restaurant was called “La Panaromique”. I had my first glass of Gaillac wine and a light salad which was decent but nothing special. I’ve dedicated my travel days to being the days when I eat light to offset all the delicious and heavy foods I’ve consumed during this trip.
After dinner, I took a stroll around Cordes to take photos and to take in the breathtaking view of the valley below. Then I wandered back to the Aurifat and relaxed in the backyard before the sun went down.
I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect start to my 2-week vacation in the Dordogne (although technically I was in the Tarn department for the first couple of days).
I hope this trip report isn’t too long or too detailed or too boring. Your feedback is very welcome. Happy reading
Me, myself and Dordogne – 2 weeks in the Beautiful French Countryside
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